MILWAUKEE — It being Sunday and all, My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way figured he'd throw in a few benedictions between amped-up hits by his New Jersey punk band. But church never sounded, or looked, quite like this. "Let me hear you say hell yeah, Milwaukee!" Way shouted over and over during his band's twilight set, which closed the show on the second night of this summer's Vans Warped Tour.
"Let me hear you say f--- yeah!" he said in a preacher's cadence, stretching out his healing hands as he strode across the stage wearing a very un-priestly vestment of black bondage pants, a black jacket and a black T-shirt with a photo of Bela Lugosi on it. At the very least, most sermons don't contain quite so many four-letter words starting with "f," or pleas to spit in the face of rock stars that ask female fans to lift their shirts.
But those kinds of contradictions are what Warped is all about. One minute you're watching a bunch of lunatics in loin cloths and combat boots calling themselves Bad Fathers play spazz-out punk rap tunes and just a few yards away you catch Phoenix's Greeley Estates shredding their throats during one of the most intense emo sets of the day. Along the way you might wander by MxPx and No Use for a Name playing some classic pop punk, Bedouin Soundclash mixing in a bit of ska and dub and Valient Thorr playing, well, it's hard to say. But it was something kind of scary along the lines of the Black Crowes meet Motörhead in tight trousers, bushy beards and lots of talk about the planet Venus.
The great equalizer? It doesn't matter if you're a veteran act like the Offspring or a band called Dork, just about everyone gets 30 minutes to do their thing, and, more than any other tour out there, it's almost impossible to tell the bands from their fans in the audience.
"It's cool to see kids going from watching the Offspring to something new like Hawthorne Heights, right?" said tour founder Kevin Lyman backstage as the sun was setting and vendors began dismantling their tents. Taking off on his customized lowrider bicycle, which, along with mini motorcycles and longboard skateboards, was the preferred means of backstage locomotion, Lyman smiled as he surveyed another successful outing of his decade-old creation.
While there was plenty of the flavor of the day emo and screamo from the likes of Silverstein, Bleed the Dream and Hawthorne Heights, there was also the hard-to-categorize set from punk supergroup the Transplants. The band played a diabolical mix of rap, punk, dub and drum'n'bass that got the audience hyped. Bobbing his mowhawked head so furiously it looked like he was bashing a cymbal with it to double his already insane torrent of beats, Travis Barker led the band into the new song "Madness," with Tim Armstrong and Rob Aston switching off on gravely vocals on a classic from their first album, "Diamonds and Guns."
One of the day's most theatrical sets belonged to Avenged Sevenfold, who took the stage amid a thick dry-ice fog and chants of "A7X" from their adoring fans. With a double guitar attack and the high-flying theatrics of pumped-up, mirror-shade-wearing singer M. Shadows, the group mixed a bit of Misfits/ Danzig horrorcore with straight-up hardcore, blitzkrieg guitar solos and lyrics worthy of a Dungeons and Dragons game on new tunes such as "Beast and the Harlot."
And though they were among the veteran acts on the bill, the Offspring were Warped newbies, on their first outing with the trek. Touring in support of their greatest-hits album, the classic So Cal punkers gave the audience exactly what it wanted with hits like "Why Don't You Get a Job?," their huge breakthrough, "Come Out and Play (Keep 'Em Separated)," and what amounts to their "Free Bird," the rousing "Self Esteem."
The thousands of fans who braved nearly eight hours of brazen punk on this perfect 75 degree day were rewarded just before 9 p.m., when My Chemical Romance played to the biggest crowd of the day. With just 30 minutes to make their case, MCR blasted out of the gate with their breakthrough "I'm Not Okay (I Promise)," which, like nearly their entire set, broke out into an audience chant-along. With a stage full of his peers looking on, Way relished the role of conquering hero, returning to Warped as a headliner and making the audience jump and shout along to his band's current hit, "Helena," and closing with a crowd-pleasing version of "You Know What They Do to Guys Like Us in Prison."
And now, in honor of Warped's 10th anniversary, we present the inaugural Warpie Awards:
- Most punk-rock move to get invited into the family: The Shira Girl stage. Founder Shira Girl bum-rushed last year's Warped with a guerrilla stage setup outside the tour and this year she had her own stage, which added some much-needed estrogen to the mostly male affair.
- Rebel yell of the day: Greeley Estates singer Ryan Zimmerman, who sounded like a cat drowning in a steel drum. Honorable mention goes to From First to Last's three vocalists, who brought a bit of opera to their emo.
- Giving new meaning to the phrase "extreme sports": Avenged Sevenfold, for hitting the Major League Baseball batting cages. If only more baseball players took batting practice in hoodies, studded belts, lip rings and wallet chains.
- T-shirt message of the day: In a sea of clever tees, "Drink apple juice 'cuz OJ will kill you" stood out. Runner-up prize goes to the 2-year-old budding punk with the black shirt that read, "When I grow up I want to be a sick boy."
- Best prop: The dude who dragged a taxidermied chicken around all day and waved it like he just didn't care.
- Too-soon award: To thetruth.com booth, whose DJ managed to get the kids moving to Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean." If only for a minute.
- Get no love award: The Marines, who were dissed profanely from the stage by at least two bands for having a recruiting booth at the previous date.
- ... is the new black award: Pink. It said so right on that guy's T-shirt, "Tough guys wear pink."
- Best cover: Atreyu, who turned Bon Jovi's "You Give Love a Bad Name" into a screamo anthem (the band recorded it for the "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" soundtrack) as they got a sea of hundreds windmilling their T-shirts over their heads while flashing devil horns with the other hand.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.